For anyone wondering which sit-down restaurants are currently hot in New York City right this second, you have arrived at the right figurative Internet place. What does “hot” mean, you ask? Well it’s safe to say that we put on relatively cute outfits to dine at each restaurant below (possibly even eye makeup and our “good deodorant”). A night out at one of these places - whether it’s for a casual catch-up with a friend or an impressive date night - feels overwhelmingly of the current moment. Many of them are brand spanking new, but we’ve also listed a couple of spots doing something noteworthy for the first time (like switching from tasting menu to a la carte, or setting up seating in the street).
And, as always, we wouldn’t be recommending any of these restaurants simply for having a memorable scene. We’ve been to each and every spot and loved the food they serve - so you can plan your dinner confidently.
If you’ve been drinking in Mexico City, aspire to visit CDMX generally, or swear you’re going to move there someday, Aldama should be at the top of your personal bucket list in NYC. It’s a sultry, cave-like spot by the bridge in Williamsburg that specializes in craft mezcal, handmade corn tortillas, and wicker as an entire aesthetic. In addition to their menu of hibiscus frozen cocktails, natural wine, and ceramic copitas full of sweet-smoky liquor, Aldama serves a shortlist of Mexican dishes - like grilled head-on shrimp, chunky guacamole topped with salsa macha, and a smoked tuna taco in a partially-sealed crispy corn-tortilla envelope. And while Aldama’s short menu and bar-atmosphere doesn’t necessarily make it the perfect venue for a formal dinner situation, we’d certainly recommend coming here for a hot date night, daily Happy Hour between 5-7pm, or a nightcap featuring a couple snacks and late-night music that starts almost every night at 10pm.
Walk into Nat’s On Bank on a Saturday night, and you’ll probably see a wide range of dinner experiences. From couples sharing seafood towers up front and best friends eating burgers at the bar, to birthday groups crowded around a baked Alaska in the back, you might even feel a bit overwhelmed. But that’s the beauty of this restaurant on a quiet, charming corner in the West Village. So ease right into the madness with a plate of sea urchin bucatini and a bottle of natural wine. This uni-topped pasta is cooked al dente and topped with breadcrumbs and pickled chilis, giving the dish a nice crunch and a kick of spice. And even if you aren’t a pseudo-sommelier, you’ll have a fun time just reading the whimsical wine list descriptions for options like a full-bodied chardonnay that’s “serving opulence & realness.”
You should come to Contento in East Harlem for your next date night when you find yourself uptown. Beyond the delicious mahi mahi ceviche swimming in a wildly citrusy leche de tigre and a jenga tower of crispy pork katsu with vinegary slaw, the service here is excellent. On one of our visits, almost every member of the staff checked in on us throughout the night, offering backstory on the wine producer of our $35 bottle of rosé from North Fork, and making sure we were well hydrated. It’s also worth mentioning that the restaurant was built with accessibility in mind, with a lowered bar counter and a bathroom with a wide door, lower sink and toilet, angled mirror, and handle by the toilet.
Raw seafood and summer are a perfect match. And you’ll find some exciting raw fish options at Tacos Güey in Flatiron. Sit at the busy bar and focus on the tuna crudo with dollops of avocado crema and some heat from the sliced serranos, the scallop aguachile that sits in a shallow pool of cucumber and finger lime sauce, and their best mariscos dish: the sea bass ceviche. Served in a clamshell with crunchy chips on the side, the combination of gooseberries, chile oil, and diced sea bass is tingly and sweet and pairs well with one of their frozen cocktails (the “That Güey” is nice and tart). Order this spread of raw things, and a larger main like the salsa verde-lathered pork ribs that fall off the bone, for a satisfying meal.
Most of us are not traveling to France just yet - but in the meantime, you should try to eat at Fradei. This tiny spot (there are a handful of tables inside, with a few more tables on the sidewalk and patio) serves an $80, regularly changing five-course menu that is kept secret until the dishes arrive to your table. Beyond drinks, there are no options when ordering, and the food is seasonal, with an emphasis on local ingredients. The chefs are both American, but met while working in France, and you can feel and taste that influence in the dishes. A few highlights from a recent dinner included an incredible play on sour cream and onion chips, white asparagus with spruce, pistachio, and egg yolks, steak tartare with togarashi, and broiled cucumbers blanketed in a delicate sheet of lard. Add to all that a perfect dining room playlist and a wine selection you’ll want to explore, and this is one of the best places to have a date night in Brooklyn right now.
Francie is the new buttoned-up Williamsburg restaurant you should visit when you want to feel cool and have no problem casually spending about $100 on dinner. The glitzy brasserie is located in a converted limestone bank building on Broadway right down the street from Peter Luger and Diner, and it’s full of waiters in white blazers carrying platters of dry-aged duck on beds of purple flowers. But surprisingly, it’s not that stuffy. We would advise dropping in on a weeknight for a martini and some upscale bar snacks like a spongy soufflé cake topped with caviar and seaweed butter before getting on with your life. That said, Francie is perfect for a special night out involving dishes like a whole roasted duck with crispy skin or lobster ravioli. And whether you’re sitting in a big booth or a two-top table in the center of the dining room, you’ll have a nice view of the chefs who appear very cool and calm in the kitchen.
The Portuguese-inspired seafood at Cervo’s has always been exciting (at least to anyone who considers liking mollusks as an inherent personality trait). But the combination of sunshine and the new outdoor set-up at this recently-reopened Lower East Side restaurant is the real reason everyone we’ve ever stalked on the internet is eating here. Cervo’s has recreated their iconic yellow tile bar smack in the middle of the now blocked-off Canal Street. Apparently, this area is affectionately known as “The Tub,” and eating there feels like being cast as an extra in a movie about Dimes Square (gorgeous light bouncing off the yellow tiles, small sunglasses, martinis, and all). Unless you show up before they open at 5:30, you’re going to have to wait at least an hour for The Tub (or an inside table for that matter), since there are no reservations to be had. Trust us, Cervo’s steamed-to-order clams, perfectly-pink lamb burger, and asparagus topped with zingy horseradish and mussels escabeche make eating here well worth your time.
There are tons of new places to drink natural wine in this city, but Winona’s is our top pick for a few reasons. First, the wine bar doubles as an all-day restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner options every day. Second, this airy and light wood-covered room on the Williamsburg/Bed-Stuy border hosts weekly pop-ups and community events like gumbo nights with Chef Kia Damon and dinners by Ediciones every Sunday and Monday night. And finally, getting drinks and snacks after sunset at Winona’s feels like being at a dinner party filled with stylish strangers and natural wine options from small producers across the world.
If you’re looking for something great and new uptown, prioritize this casual Korean spot on Amsterdam Avenue and 90th Street where chicken dominates the entire menu. Chick Chick’s Korean play on Nashville Hot Chicken is crunchier than it is fiery, and we could write an entire review of this twice-fried, chili-dusted poultry production with pickles and creamy white sauce. But Chick Chick’s allure extends much further than one sandwich. From an unexpectedly light kale caesar salad to soy-pepper wings, and a beautifully-cooked kimchi fried rice with chicken sausage and rich egg yolk, order chicken in all its forms here. The set-up feels just a step-up from a fast-casual restaurant (and there’s no alcohol), making Chick Chick a perfect place to pick up some takeout for your kids or an excellent meal with a friend for around $20.
We could all be a little happier if we applied this Mexican restaurant’s maximalist approach to our own lives. Why make a habañero mango cocktail without torching a thick sprig of rosemary in it first? Why paint a patio muted pastel pink when a shade called “hot pink” exists? If there’s a vat of earthy mole negro in the kitchen, why not pour a pint of it onto a plate with chicken enchiladas or tender short rib? The portions of Oaxacan specialties at this new Astoria spot are massive, and the mole and Patrón flow like tap water. This fun new restaurant would be especially great for a group of friends reuniting with a bang, or a date where splitting some gooey chori queso with warm corn tortillas is in the cards.
This Japanese restaurant in Chinatown - located in the home of former scene-y spots like Lalito and karaoke bar Winnie’s - focuses on Hokkaido specialties that go nicely with shochu sour cocktails, natural wine, and a kind-of-wild night with a small group of people you love. Build your meal around Dr. Clark’s thinly-sliced, marinated lamb jingisukan, which is grilled tableside and served with a mixture of crunchy marinated onions and bean sprouts. We’d recommend supplementing the lamb with fresh seafood, like some chewy squid stuffed with uni-laced rice and a bowl of kaisen featuring assorted salmon and tuna sashimi, roe, cucumber, radish, uni, and steamed egg. Part of Dr. Clark’s charm is that you get to eat beneath a sparkling disco ball on Bayard Street, and spot someone who possibly starred on an HBO show in 2012.